Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury
Contributed by Ariane Heyne

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Section 5
Summary

From Beatty’s visit through the end of “The Hearth and the Salamander”

Captain Beatty stops by to check on Montag. He says that he guessed that Montag would be sick today and not coming to work. He informs Montag that every fireman at some point deals with the “problem” that he is experiencing. He goes on to tell him about the history of the profession. There are almost hysterical qualities about Beatty’s monologue, and the way he suddenly jumps from one thing to another with no explanation of the connection causes it to be very difficult to follow and understand the history he presents. A component of the story is that television, film, and photography presented the possibility of presenting information in a visual way that was quick and easy to digest, and that this caused the more reflective and slower process of reading books to become less popular. Other elements of his argument is that the growth of literacy, as well as the huge increase in the number of published materials available, caused there to be pressure for books to be more similar to one another and easier to read (such as Reader’s Digest condensed books). In conclusion, Beatty claims that special interest groups and “minorities” found such a large number of things in books to be objectionable that people finally decided to give up on debate and begin burning books.

Mildred’s attention span comes up short when Beatty is talking, and she gets up and starts straightening the room in an absentminded way. In doing this, she discovers the book hidden behind Montag’s pillow and attempts to bring attention to it. Montag screams at her, telling her to sit down. Beatty gives the impression he doesn’t notice and continues talking. He says that the public eventually wanted material that was uncontroversial and provided easy pleasure. This led to printed material becoming dumbed down to the point that only sex magazines, trade journals, and comic books survived. Beatty says that after every house was fireproofed, the job of the fireman changed from preventing and putting out fires to the new goal of burning books that could help people improve spiritually, intellectually, and practically, thereby possibly making others feel inferior. Montag inquires how a person such as Clarisse could possibly exist, and Beatty explains that the firemen have been monitoring the family because they defied the homogenization of the school system. Beatty states that they had maintained a file on the odd behavior of the McClellans for several years and that Clarisse is lucky to be dead.

Beatty pushes Montag not to forget how much of an important role he and the other firemen play in the world’s happiness. He informs him that every fireman develops a curiosity about books sooner or later. He explains it’s because he has read some books himself that he’s able to assert that they are both contradictory and useless. Montag asks him what the consequences would be if a fireman inadvertently brought a book home with him. Beatty responds that he would be permitted to retain it for twenty-four or forty-eight hours, but that after that the other firemen would arrive to burn it. Beatty starts to get ready to leave and asks if Montag could come to work later. Montag says that he may do. He secretly decides, however, never to go there again. Once Beatty has left, Montag informs Mildred that he no longer wishes to work at the fire station. He shows her about twenty books that he has secretly kept and that have been concealed in the ventilator. Panicking, she attempts to burn them. He stops her from doing this. Montag wants to look through them at least once, and he requires her assistance. He searches the books for a reason why he is so unhappy. It seems that he has been stealing books for quite a while. Mildred finds the books frightening, but Montag wants her to be involved in his search. He asks her to give him forty-eight hours of support in helping him look through the books in the hope of discovering something valuable that they will be able to share with others. Someone arrives at the door, but Montag and his wife don’t answer. It is later revealed that the second visitor was the Mechanical Hound. Montag begins reading a copy of Gulliver’s Travels.

Analysis

We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the constitution says, but everyone made equal….A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it.

During his explanation of the history of book burning, Beatty links deep thought with sadness, and he sees sadness as being absolutely evil. The bookless society’s immediacy of pleasure gets rid of thought, and with the elimination of thought is believed to be the elimination of the ability to express sadness. We begin to understand that this is why people such as Mildred are burdened with huge amounts of suppressed pain. Beatty says that mass censorship first started with a number of different special interest groups and minorities objecting to material they found to be offensive. Another factor was the general populace’s diminishing attention span. A result of this was that books and ideas were made further and further condensed until they became not much more than a series of sound bites. They were eventually completely eliminated in favor of media that was more superficial and focused on stimulating the senses. Uniformity was required by mass production, and this led to the elimination of the variance that books once offered.

Beatty’s explanation begins with the idea that censorship began with the people rather than the government (although the government did make laws later in line with the wishes of the people). The majority of people ceased reading books a long time before they ever started being burned. It is vital to realize that Beatty’s full description of the fireman’s history has a strangely ambivalent tone. Everything he says is full of sarcasm and irony, and the way he describes reading comes off to the reader as nostalgic and passionate. On the other hand, his enthusiasm for book burning seems insincere. The sarcasm, of course, is a reflection of the author’s attitude towards his subject matter, and a great deal of Beatty’s complexity comes from the reality of his being both Bradbury’s villain and mouthpiece. All of his speech is intentionally ironic.

Beatty and Montag live in a shallow world full of hedonists where everyone wants to be the same and intellectuals are shunned. People with superior minds are persecuted until they conform to what everyone else does. Those who are not born equal are made to be equal. Funerals cause unhappiness, and they are therefore eliminated. When death occurs, it is immediately forgotten. Bodies are incinerated in an unceremonious way. In this culture, books are seen as being as morbid as dead bodies, as they offer the dead thoughts of dead authors. Fire is idolized in this society, as it is a symbol of the cleanliness caused by destruction. Beatty explains that “Fire is bright and fire is clean.”

Some personal information of Beatty’s is also revealed here. He tells Montag about how he has attempted to understand the universe and he has firsthand knowledge of its tendency to melancholy. He feels it makes people feel lonely and bestial. He prefers living a life of instant pleasure. Beatty attempts to convince Montag that firemen are needed to ensure happiness in the world. Montag says that he will never work as a fireman again, and we witness how much his confidence and resolve have grown. He is a very different man from the person who just recently feared that he could be convinced to come back to work by Beatty’s skillful use of rhetoric.

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